The National Trust team on the Mendip Hills have introduced an innovative new way of managing conservation grazing on Crook Peak, funded by the Mendip Landscape Project and National Grid.
The NoFence system works via an app to use virtual fencing for a herd of 60 cattle. Using this technology means there’s no need for obtrusive fences in the commons, yet the cattle are still protected from busy areas. It also allows grazing to be targeted to areas where it’ll have the most benefit and helps the rangers monitor the impact on the protected limestone grassland.
The cattle wear a solar-powered GPS collar and if they approach the virtual boundary, they’re alerted by a musical tone and, if they persist, they’re deterred by a weak electrical pulse. The cattle are monitored by an independent vet and the grazier checks them every day they are out on the hill – daily checks and resolving welfare concerns is easier thanks to the GPS collars.
Conservation grazing is an invaluable tool in looking after the unique landscape of Crook Peak. Grazing is the most effective and natural way to preserve limestone grassland habitats and increase biodiversity. Our natural flora evolved with large grazing herbivores such as aurochs and bison which would graze an area and move on and therefore support new habitat mosaics.
Lauren Holt, Area Ranger for the National Trust, says: ‘By using the collars, we can move cattle to mimic traditional patterns of behaviour, allowing areas that are overgrazed to rest and exclude parts of the hill that are busiest with visitors. The app can produce a heat map tracking their movements, so we can really begin to understand how the cattle behave in different weathers, and if there is something in particular they are foraging for.’
Rich Brinson, Grazier on Crook Peak, says: ‘The collars have meant I can respond to welfare concerns so much quicker as the app alerts me when there is a problem and uses the GPS to locate the exact position of the animal. It enables us to move the cattle on knowing there will be enough for them to graze which is important for their health.’
The Mendip Landscape Project is seeking to restore priority and protected calcareous grassland habitats across the Mendips and connect the community with its nature and heritage.
“Grazing is the most effective and natural way to preserve limestone grassland and increase biodiversity.”